I abhor hypocrisy. I think if you’re going to be in the business of news, and telling people the truth, of trying to shed light in dark places, then you’ve got to be honest. You’ve got to have the same rules for yourself as you do for everyone else.
Don Lemon is open, educated, handsome and always prepared and amongst his many traits, there is little or no evidence of hypocrisy. In his role as a CNN News Anchor, since 2006, Lemon has readied himself to deliver to the world, a plethora of interchangeable current affairs snippets and stories, including perhaps two of the most groundbreaking stories of the past seven years. One begun as political but quickly became social because of its protagonist. The other begun as a social announcement but became political due to its theme. Both stories involved prominent public figures. Both these public figures are men. Both these men are Black and it is that pivotal piece of information, which heightened interest in both these ostensibly groundbreaking stories.
The first story is the more obvious of the two. On November 4th 2008, Barack Hussein Obama was elected to be the 44th President of the United States of America. An accomplishment marked by a rousing victory speech in Chicago’s Grant Park, before an estimated audience of billions across the globe. In his fervent address, Obama noted the presence of an elusive guest that night; one that had trudged from the plantations, through the civil war and out of The House on January 31st 1865, with the Thirteenth Amendment tucked under an arm. A guest that motioned its way through the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s; saw nine black youths indicted of having raped two white women in Scottsboro, Alabama; witnessed Emmett Till murdered for allegedly whistling at a white woman in Mississippi; battled through The Montgomery Bus Boycott; left 1964 with the Civil Rights Act under the other arm; survived several assassinations; watched a King called Rodney viciously dethroned by four white police officers before witnessing the outbreak of a momentous insurrection in Los Angeles in 1992. A guest that came, with a sole purpose, to assume its position at the forefront of world politics:
“It’s been a long time coming, but tonight, because of what we did on this day, in this election, at this defining moment, change has come to America”.
Change, that long distant, well-travelled relative that had wrestled its way through a tireless history of oppression had finally arrived and led the way for the first African American POTUS to assume position in office. Obama was sworn in January 20th 2009, after defeating Republican candidate John McCain, and again January 21st 2013 after retaining the title in a tactical victory against that caricature of astounding affluence and poor character, Mitt Romney.
In his 2013 inaugural speech, issued on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Obama made his political stance on Same-Sex Equality clear:
“Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law – for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well”.
In the following months, the expected angst and conflict amongst African Americans, in response to Obama’s announcement, never materialized, with 59% of blacks endorsing Same-Sex Marriage in the wake of Obama’s historic endorsement according to a Washington Post-ABC survey. Given Black America’s chequered past with Homophobia, one was left wondering if Black Americans had finally begun to trump the timeless taboos through a unique combination of Obama’s approval, his apparent nearness with the average man and the all-important race factor.
Was Black America finally ready to renounce Homophobia?
Response to the second story may go some way to answering that. The second story is a story that, like Obama’s, follows the trend of change. Back in 2011, same-sex change was becoming deeply sutured into the fabric of Black American Society when CNN News Anchor Don Lemon used his bestselling memoir Transparent to reveal that he was a homosexual and then on July 3rd 2012, Frank Ocean outdid him on the PR, when he issued a statement, driving up traffic to his Tumblr page and support amongst African Americans, when he conveniently expressed (in time for Independence Day, July 4th and his album release July 17th) that at 19 years old (“4 summers ago”) he had first loved a man he calls Forrest Gump. Not the Tom Hanks great of American Cinema, but the male romantic hero of track 16 on his Grammy-Winning debut effort Channel Orange.
On January 20th 2009, when Barack, Michelle, Malia and Natasha Obama ventured into the White House it was deemed as a step up the civil rights staircase, one step closer to the Promised Land the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. swore he had seen in his iconic Mountaintop address and was largely fuelled by the support of the community Obama and his family are inherently a part of – Black America. By the same token, when Lemon walked from the closet into consciousness, detailing his same-sex preference, racism within the black community, homophobia and his own experiences of sexual abuse as a child, many of the same Black Americans who had applauded and welcomed change into their homes on November 4th 2008 now welcomed caution also, that is, until Hip Hop and Obama’s later approval begun to further soften years of culturally and religiously hardened prejudices.
According to Lemon, the reason for this is clear: “It’s about the worst thing you can be in black culture … you’re taught you have to be a man; you have to be masculine. In the black community, they think you can pray the gay away. I guess this makes me a double minority now.”
What Obama’s endorsement of Same-Sex Marriage and Lemon’s revelation both tell us about “post-racial” America is that Race still matters and that perhaps it matters more than Equality, leaving many to question: Would you rather be black or would you rather be equal?
One look at, the newly-christened, Snoop Lion’s commentary on the matter of Frank Ocean, Homosexuality and Hip Hop provides an interesting angle:
“Frank Ocean ain’t no rapper. He’s a singer. It’s acceptable in the singing world, but in the rap world I don’t know if it will ever be acceptable because rap is so masculine.” He continues, “It’s like a football team. You can’t be in a locker room full of motherfucking tough-ass dudes; then all of a sudden say, ‘Hey, man, I like you.’ You know, that’s going to be tough …”
The focus on Black Male Masculinity once again raises the issue of a gulf between what is acceptable and what is equal and where the public image of the black man lies between those two opposing poles.
Snoop Lion is seen to voice concerns that Frank Ocean’s revelation of his same-sex preference, may well pose a challenge or threat to Hip Hop and also Black Male Masculinity.
According to Michael C. LaSala, director of the Master of Social Work program at Rutgers University School of Social Work. “Parents and youths alike worry that gay men cannot meet the rigid expectations of exaggerated masculinity maintained by their families and communities.”
After reading through Asia Brown’s A Letter To My Black Gay Brothers, dated Tuesday April 2nd 2013 on http://www.musedmagonline.com, and considering the question of what it means to be black male and masculine in Modern America, I would go so far as to say that despite recent evidence of significant change in the Black American political and social dynamic, the presence of both ‘angry black man’ and the ‘passive black gay accessory’ stereotyping threaten to send the same change that showed up November 4th 2008, running away from consciousness, back down the civil rights ladder and back into the closet of caution.
This letter http://www.musedmagonline.com/2013/04/a-letter-to-my-black-gay-brothers/ while thought-provoking, is loaded with passive-aggressive bigotry and best viewed as subterfuge. There are a number of incidents within the underlying argument that speak of someone who admits having perpetuated bigotry but refuses to fully admit, like Snoop Lion, being the bigot she speaks of, instead blaming the black gay brother, she is referring too, for antagonising her into a bigoted behavioural pattern.
Shouldn’t we all claim full responsibility for our bigotry, regardless of the incentive?
In her epistle, Brown somehow manages to polarise every Black Gay Man as part of the type she is accustomed to. Her letter has no addressee, which, though it may be an oversight, is in fact the most crucial part of that which afflicts these two arguments – they do not, neither of them, know exactly who they are talking to!
Asia’s impassioned homily is to the many best friends, mentors and colleagues she has had, who have been homosexual! Men she values so highly, she does not see fit to salute them. As for Snoop, his: “I don’t have a problem with gay people. I got some gay homies,” is indicative of a huge problem many Black Gay Males face with self-identified black male heterosexuals the world over, it is called Xenophobia. The deep-seated and irrational rejection, hatred and fear of the foreigner.
As a direct result of this fear, suspicion surrounding the homosexual’s sexual motives with the straight black male arise leading to alienation since embracing and engaging with the subject of one’s fear could mean losing one’s masculine identity, force one into an out group and thus a desire to eliminate the gay male; to secure and purify the black cultural spectrum and the race-related concept of black male masculinity ensues.
Xenophobia far from being just an issue of shame relating to the other’s sexuality is also an issue of gender identity and cultural safety relating to its protagonist.
A Letter To My Black Gay Brothers also makes reference to Black Gay Men as ‘brothers’. This shouldn’t be an issue, but it is because it revolves around the issue of the black gay brother in a family setting without fully exploring his role as a blood family member or as a member of a wider social network not limited to blood relationships. Asia does promise to further explore the black gay brother’s role further, but her promise comes with conditions attached.
Rather than simply pointing out her own shortcomings, Asia points out those of her black gay brothers also, but surely not every black gay brother the world over is the same with identical issues. I guess there is no need for a response then, or perhaps in not addressing this letter to anyone that is the whole point of the epistle. Perhaps Asia would have fared better addressing this letter to herself and told herself what she will and will not accept in a relationship with her black gay male friends.
In putting herself at the centre of her argument, Asia would have made it clear exactly who she is referring to - her black gay brothers and how the dysfunction between them needs to be resolved through a rigorous course of action. I suggest that Black Gay Brothers the world over would have better seen how they have harmed Asia’s straight black female then, rather than being made guilty of their crimes without an opportunity to plead their case and therefore becoming defensive for being grouped together under the black gay brother banner. Contrary to traditional rhetoric, we are not all family in that respect. We all need to reach our own epiphany, realise our own bigotry and do better of our own accord. You cannot force change, at best you can create a space for change to come in at its own pace, as Obama’s presidency and Lemon’s zesty revelation prove.
Is the use of this brothers term a passive-agressive adherence to the stereotype of all Black American people as one huge dysfunctional family and an attempt to actively engage the subject of dysfunction – Homosexuality; an attempt at reform encouraged by Change, itself once the foreigner the American Xenophobe was forced to embrace back in 2008 with the election of Obama into office. Change – the same foreigner that encouraged Black America to embrace Don Lemon and Frank Ocean and countless other black gay males.
In January 2013, Michael LaSala, Director of the Master of Social Work program at Rutgers University School of Social Work completed Gay African-American Youth Face Unique Challenges Coming Out to Families: a study of black gay youth and their families from inner-city neighborhoods in New York City and Philadelphia. Among his findings was the suggestion that black parents tend to attach feelings of guilt to the revelation that their child is gay and discovered that a large section of black gay youths create an obvious physical and emotional distance between themselves and their parents before coming out.
Among Gay Men of all races there is alarming misogyny. Many Gay men elicit behaviours, which effectively legitimise assault and demonstrate a gratuitous sense of entitlement where the anatomy of the female is concerned. This objectification is displayed clearly in “Gay Men Will Marry Your Girlfriends” a satirical viral campaign from College Humour urging for Marriage equality, while threatening to deprive self-identified heterosexual males of their prospective straight female partners with lines such as: “We can play her like an upright bass”.
The perpetuation of female anatomical privilege by gay males is an extension of male supremacy and sexism. Asia Brown’s plea to not disparage my body or my female genitalia in misogynist-fashion is as much a cry for ownership as it is for female legitimacy.
For breasts not to topically mishandled, but to be treated as breasts; for the female anatomy to not be marginalized but celebrated and creating a culture in which the woman retains the rights to her body and how it is treated, both on the Hip Hop record and in the hands of the gay male. I agree.
Both Barack Obama and Don Lemon are paragons of American Progressivism and Equality on the basis of Race, Gender and all else. There are millions more like them both. Men who defy type. Anchormen, not accessories. Men who challenge, rather than commit to, the status quo.
I guess I am saying, there is more to this story. Much more.
Liberalism is founded on ideas of equality, liberty and social justice. So in response to Snoop’s open mouth and Asia’s very open letter and in the name of equality, I will suggest that we all continue to keep our mouths equally closed and our eyes equally open and on the lookout for change.